After two decades of wandering, Evergreen Christian Fellowship had finally come home.

Founded in 1990, the 800-member church had met for years in temporary locations. In 2008, they opened their first building—a 30,807-square-foot big-box church in Sammamish, Washington, about a half-hour from downtown Seattle.

Getting the 20 acres had been a godsend. The property first belonged to Plateau Bible Fellowship, which was about to close its doors. They had hoped giving it to Evergreen would ensure years of fruitful ministry. For Evergreen members like Tami Floyd, it was a time to celebrate. “It’s a great place to call your own after 20 years,” she told the Sammamish Review.

But two years later, Evergreen had shrunk to 200 people. The ensuing financial crisis left the church on the edge of shutting down.

Enter Mars Hill Church, a then-thriving 12,000-member congregation meeting in a dozen locations in the Pacific Northwest. (You may have heard of it.)

Afraid their church would close, Evergreen leaders approached Mars Hill about joining as a satellite campus. Although it would mean the end of Evergreen as an independent church—all of its assets would transfer to Mars Hill—the merger would allow the church to live on.

In 2011, Evergreen members voted to join Mars Hill.

“This is a big, grace-filled gift from God,” Mark Driscoll told his congregation in a blog post. At the time, Mars Hill seemed to have the perfect strategy for growing membership, finances, and ministry, much of it hinging on the appeal of a charismatic pastor with a national following.

Church planter Neil Cole wrote in 2010 that he once heard the strategy for starting new Mars Hill locations summed up as, “Just add water ...

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